First off, your shoe is split into 2 main sections – Upper and Sole Unit. Each of these have several components which all work together to create your ideal ride.
- Upper – This is the fabric, knit, mesh or leather which is held together by the laces. Variances occur depending on if your shoe is a trail or racer. Read on for more info.
- Sole Unit – When you think of the sole you usually look at the tread on the bottom of your shoe. However, when it comes to running shoes there’s a whole lot of science going on. The sole is actually made up of two parts – the Midsole and the Outsole.They are made separately and then glued together.
Parts of a Running Shoe Sole Unit
- Midsole – This part of the shoe is found sandwiched between the insole of your shoe and the outsole. It is typically constructed from foam and dictates if it will be a cushioned, stability or motion-controlled ride. The usual polymer will be polyurethane or ethylene vinyl acetate ( EVA) but the big brands use their own science and create gels or airbags for extra protection, durability and performance.
- Outsole – In simple terms this is the rubber sole of the shoe which makes contact with the ground. However, the science behind your kicks will ensure that your sole is either made from carbon rubber for durability ( though it can be heavy and stiff) or blown rubber for flexibility and cushioning. Of course many shoes are a combination of both compounds to give you a good all-rounder. Trail runners you really need to think about the outsole when taking your terrains into account.
The other thing to mention at this point is the Heel Drop. It’s not an actual part of the shoe but it makes a huge difference to the way your foot strikes/lands with the floor. Heel drop a.k.a as offset is essentially the measurement of the thickness of the heel.
The drop will be the measurement difference between the height of the heel part and the toe part of your shoe.
A higher heel drop encourages heel striking whereas a small heel drop drop will give you a more midfoot or forefoot strike.
However, it’s worth remembering that usually thicker heel drops are more cushioned compared to a racing shoe which has minimal support.
- Medial Post – A medial post is a device which can be found within the midsole. It is made from firmer EVA than the remainder of the midsole and is essential at controlling excessive pronation. This medial post is found in stability and motion control shoes but not needed in cushioned or neutral shoes.
- Shank – The shank is a supportive structure which is integrated between the shoe’s insole and outsole running underneath the arch of the foot.The shank’s job is to stiffen the shoe, making the middle of the shoe more resistant to over flex or torsion. The shank ensures the shoes will bend at the toes instead of under the arch. It’s a pivotal part of the shoe giving strength and stability whilst maintaining much needed flexibility. You’ll find a shank in most running shoes except the minimalist and racer styles.
Parts of a Running Shoe Upper
- Tongue – This is the separate strip on the upper and its main purpose is to protect the top of your foot from lace pressure, and it’s a useful aid for putting your shoes on and off. Trail shoes are slightly different as the tongue is stitched into place to stop dirt and debris from entering your shoes.
- Toe Box – This area of the shoe is where your toes sit and wriggle. Make sure your toes have room to swell once warm and that the top of your toes don’t touch the upper. The height and width of the toe box are both equally as important.
- Vamp – This section of the upper incorporates the toe box right back to the join at the quarter.
- Quarter/ Quarter panel – The rear and sides of the upper that cover the heel and link forwards to the vamp.
- Heel Tab – The focus of this part of the shoe is your achilles. The heel tab a.k.a the Achilles Tendon Protector or the Achilles Tendon Notch locks the shoe firmly and comfortably around your heel.
- Heel Collar / Heel Cuff – Incorporating the Heel Tab, the collar/cuff wraps around your ankle. It’s padded and cushioned and ensures a firm hug of a fit.
- Laces – With 2 trillion different ways to lace your shoes, it’s worth trialling one or two of those out! Tension points can be avoided with variances of lacing-style and your fit can of course be adjusted by the positioning of the lace eyelets and tightness of your tie.
- Eyelet – The holes which your laces thread through. Running shoes often have an ‘extra’ eyelet which help lock your heel in place. If you feel your foot slipping or suffer from blisters on one foot but not the other, a re-lace through the top eyelet can sometimes resolve the issue.
- Lace garage – A trail shoe must-have. Tuck those trailing ends neatly away in their garage to avoid any untimely trips and mishaps on your course.
- Aglet/Tag – The plastic or metal end of your shoelaces ensure that your laces don’t unravel and make your lacing process all the easier.
- Sock liner / Insole – This removable insert is made from very thin foam and adds a layer of cushioning whilst protecting your foot from rubbing against the seams underneath. You remove this part if you have orthotics/custom made insoles.
What’s a running shoe last and why does it matter to you?
The Last / Lasting – When a shoe is being constructed it is shaped over a 3D foot model. These foot models are called Lasts and appear in many shapes and styles.
When it comes to running shoes, the manufacturers use 3 types of Last to create the 3 most common shapes of running shoe.
These 3 lasting shapes are – curved, semi-curved and straight. These shapes help describe how the upper is attached to the midsole and have different benefits to the wearer.
A curved last is c-shaped, the majority of racing shoes and spikes are curved offering a light yet unsupportive ride.
Straight lasting is found in motion-controlled shoes for over pronators and stability shoes. Straight shoes have more support under the arch of the foot and are therefore heavier.
Semi-curved lastings are a hybrid. The majority of running shoes are semi-curved and offer a combination of speed and support.
Now that you’ve mastered the 3 types of last, you can read on to discover there are also 3 ways in which the last is attached to the rest of the shoe. These three techniques for joining the upper and the midsole together are called slip lasting, board lasting and combination lasting.
In slip lasting, the upper of the shoe is pulled over the last and glued or stitched directly to the midsole. This makes for a lighter shoe.
In board lasting the upper is attached to the bottom of a flexible board on top of the midsole. This approach is great for stability shoes.
Combination lasting uses the board method in the heel and the slip method in the forefoot of your shoe. This ensures a stable heel and a flexible toe area.
With all this knowledge you can now go forth and buy your next pair of running shoes with complete clarity and mastery.
Running Shoes Anatomy: Infographic
Here you’ll find all the info in a convenient infographic format!